The #1 New York Times bestselling author of Beautiful Boy explores the transformation of Jarvis Jay Masters who has become one of America’s most inspiring Buddhist practitioners while locked in a cell on death row.
Jarvis Jay Masters’s early life was a horror story whose outline we know too well. Born in Long Beach, California, his house was filled with crack, alcohol, physical abuse, and men who paid his mother for sex. He and his siblings were split up and sent to foster care when he was five, and he progressed quickly to juvenile detention, car theft, armed robbery, and ultimately San Quentin. While in prison, he was set up for the murder of a guard—a conviction which landed him on death row, where he’s been since 1990.
At the time of his murder trial, he was held in solitary confinement, torn by rage and anxiety, felled by headaches, seizures, and panic attacks. A criminal investigator repeatedly offered to teach him breathing exercises which he repeatedly refused. Until desperation moved him to ask her how to do “that meditation shit.” With uncanny clarity, David Sheff describes Masters’s gradual but profound transformation from a man dedicated to hurting others to one who has prevented violence on the prison yard, counseled high school kids by mail, and helped prisoners—and even guards—find meaning in their lives.
Along the way, Masters becomes drawn to the principles that Buddhism espouses—compassion, sacrifice, and living in the moment—and he gains the admiration of Buddhists worldwide, including many of the faith’s most renowned practitioners. And while he is still in San Quentin and still on death row, he is a renowned Buddhist thinker who shows us how to ease our everyday suffering, relish the light that surrounds us, and endure the tragedies that befall us all.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
When His Holiness the Dalai Lama talks about how impressive an audiobook is, you know it’s going to be pretty profound. This astounding biography of Jarvis Jay Masters explores how he became a devout and inspiring practitioner of Buddhism—while on death row. Journalist David Sheff (Beautiful Boy) made 200 visits to San Quentin to record more than 150 hours of conversations with Masters. Actor Michael Boatman’s calm delivery gives us plenty of space to reflect on the accounts of Masters’ harrowing childhood, descent into crime, and eventual path towards transformative growth. Though Masters’ experiences can be upsetting to hear about, the way he finds peace in the principles of Buddhism left us feeling better prepared to deal with whatever suffering may happen in our own future. The Buddhist on Death Row is the kind of transformative listen that will change your day—and possibly even your life.
Customer ReviewsSee All
A beautifully written book. One we should all read.